The Twilight Samurai (2004*) Review

A magnificent movie by Japanes director Yoji Yamada. It does for the Samurai flick what Unforgiven did for the Western. The subject matter covers a wide berth; familial responsibility, unrequited love, patriotism, duty, social standing, humility, perception vs reality… This has a LOT going on despite being a quiet, low key story for the most part.

The story is stripped down to the bone. The emphasis is on making a film that is a little closer to reality than many of the samurai flicks of the past. It never glamorizes any of the violence with intricately choreographed sword parrying. It’s simple, direct and brutal.  the dialogue is a bit formal at times, but I think that’s more of the reflectiono the formality of Japanese culture, which probably was infinitely more so in the mid to late 1800s (the movies co-star Rie Miyazawa may be an example of cultural pressures offscreen).

The true purpose of the film isn’t really revealed until the closing moments in a very poignant epilogue. I’ve seen this film several times now and it continues to amaze me. It’s slow paced for the most part, so don’t expect an action film so much as a well told story of a ‘retired’ samurai reluctantly forced back into duty despite being a widower father with kids to looks after. And he’s not interested in the job requirements of a samurai anymore, either.

Hiroyuki Sanada is outstanding this as Seibei who has been sarcastically named ‘Twilight Samurai’ by his co-workers who don’t particularly like or respect him. He works all day and then comes home to take of the homestead, raising two kids and having to care for his sick mother who no longer remebers who he is. When he gets involved in a scuffle against his will, it leads to bigger repercussions of honor and (forced) societal duty. It’s very easy to sympathize with his plight in the story.

I place this film right up there with the likes of Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’. Whereas Ran was much more a theatrical drama though, Twighlight Samurai has an earthy realism to it. It’s a film somewhat small in scope, but has a very poignant story.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes well told stories (and can sit through a subtitled movie… which really isn’t that difficult).

5 of 5

* Released in the US in 2004. Originally released in 2002 in Japan.

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